Chapter 198. Paradise and Earth (4)

Seol Jihu’s eyes trembled faintly as he read the records. His heated head had cooled down by now, and he began to get immersed in reading.

Swallowing hard, he turned the page. There were names he recognized.

—Baek Haeju (Korea)
 The first Earthling to advance to Level 8, doing so alone without the help of others….

—Seo Yuhui (Korea)
A legend among legends. No other explanation is needed.

—Sung Shihyun (Korea)
The next in line of the elites from Area 1, following Baek Haeju and Seo Yuhui. He once worked alongside them in a team, but due to his poor personality and lascivious tendencies, he had a huge fight with Baek Haeju and also parted ways with Seo Yuhui.
While his personality leaves much to be desired, his strength and the contributions he made for Paradise are undeniable.
He became famous by consecutively succeeding in Scheherazade Royal Family’s missions, which were known to be difficult. Most importantly, he succeeded in forcing the Parasite Queen, who was fighting on the frontlines, to return to the Corrupted Throne, thereby limiting her activities to the Empire’s territory.


Seol Jihu also recognized Marcel Ghionea’s fiance, who supposedly developed photon magic, as well as Evangeline Rose’s name.

‘Amazing, amazing…’

Nodding his head non-stop, Seol Jihu’s hand refused to take a break. But who could blame him?

People who devised ingenious plans that even Seol Jihu had not thought of, people who made breathtaking achievements that filled him with admiration… each person recorded in Ian’s papers were Earthlings who sincerely put in great efforts for the benefit of Paradise and made significant contributions.

Then…

—Seol Jihu (Korea) 
An Irregular who appeared from Area 1 after a long period of lull. Made significant contributions at just Level 1 in exploring the Forest of Denial. Single-handedly devised and carried out a baiting strategy at Arden Valley, annihilating the enemy forces. Solved Ramman Village’s mystery at Level 2, then admitted the Ramman villagers, who were exposed to danger, to Haramark at his own expense. Additionally, he cooperated with the Federation to stop the Parasites’ plan to mass-produce mutant Orcs, led the Laboratory Rescue Mission to dazzling success, and, at a low level, accomplished other incredible feats such as stabilizing the Banquet.


Seol Jihu unexpectedly saw his own name. However, he tilted his head as he flipped a page. Ian couldn’t have come up with things that didn’t happen.

There were so many great Earthlings, so how did Paradise turn out this way?

At that moment, his hand paused. After a single empty page, three words were written on a new section cover.

Cause of Death.

‘Cause of death?’

When he flipped the page, he frowned and his eyes narrowed to slits.

—Al Zahra: lost contact after entering the Parasites’ territory for a ruin exploration.
According to the rumors, the Parasite Queen had taken an interest in her and taken her prisoner, but the sole survivor of her expedition team and the comrade who supplied the information about the ruin to Al Zahra retired without providing a clear testimony.
Many questions are left unanswered.

—Alvaro Skroke: lost his position after an internal whistle-blower claimed he used PAX’s funds for personal benefit. PAX then began to lose influence through conflicts with other organizations, being reduced in size until its mission changed completely.
Alvaro Skroke insisted that he was innocent, saying that he had been framed.
He was then found dead in his house by an acquaintance. Whether it was a suicide or a homicide has not been revealed, but considering the death penalty imposed on all Earthlings, the latter is more likely — a homicide of unknown cause.

—Eleanor Luna: an anonymous Earthling made a formal appeal, saying that Eleanor Luna had forced them to sell her information regarding a ruin. Eleanor Luna claimed to have gone through proper procedures, but several organizations took the anonymous accuser’s side and publicly denounced her.
The anonymous accuser submitted evidence to the Seven Kingdoms, pressing charges against Eleanor Luna. She rebutted that the evidence was forged.
Organizations quit trading with her merchant association and refused to enter her academy. Eleanor Luna firmly maintained her innocence, but finally retired from Paradise after a sex scandal.
Soon, the merchant association was quickly broken apart, and Luna Academy closed down.

—Joshua Claflin: strongly argued that humanity could not let the Beastmen Alliance be wiped out, but received little reactions.
He teamed up with another Executor, a close friend of his, to lead a small force of elites and reinforce the Beastmen Alliance. However, he was ambushed by Unsightly Humility during the march and died after a bloody battle.


Seol Jihu’s hands trembled faintly. His eyes frantically scanned the paper. It wasn’t just these four.

Of the hundreds of names written in Ian’s records, most— or more precisely, 80%— were…

‘All… dead…?’

Strictly speaking, some of them couldn’t be described as ‘deaths’, but it was fitting as they retired from Paradise without ever planning on coming back.

Seol Jihu’s eyes shot open. He went back to the previous pages, reading the content carefully and comparing them to what was written in the Cause of Death section.

Time flew. A rather depressing night passed by and morning sunlight began to shine down on Seol Jihu. He was still staring at the records, not having moved an inch.

After reviewing the records for an entire night, the faint feeling of unease, which had constantly been bothering him, became clear.

The causes of deaths could be largely separated into four categories: being captured by the Parasites, being attacked and killed by the Seven Armies, being found one day as a corpse, and retiring from Paradise unable to endure slander and controversies.

There were also cases of people going missing. Of course, it could just have been that some were pure accidents. But because Ian wrote ‘Many questions are left unanswered’ for most of them, it was hard to accept them as simple accidents.

There was a well-known adage.

That once was a coincidence, twice was a miracle, and thrice was a reality.

[Her intentions were very clear. She planned to reverse our final move into one that helped her instead.]

He recalled what Gula said, and an ominous thought crossed his mind.

From the outside, it might seem like the Parasite Queen did not lay her hands on humanity, but it was possible that she manipulated humanity from the shadows.

If the hundreds of precedents in the records served as evidence for this hypothesis…

‘Then…’

Him being provoked and Seo Yuhui being attacked… wasn’t it possible that the Parasite Queen was somehow involved? Investigating deeper and deeper, wouldn’t she be unveiled at the very end?

It was then.

“What bullshit is that!?”

While he was immersed in his thoughts, a terrifying scream suddenly pierced his ears. It was Chohong’s.

Seol Jihu snapped out of his thoughts. Because he had been so focused on reading and interpreting the records, he had no clue what was going on outside.

Folding the stack of papers and putting it in his pocket, he left his room. There, he saw a rather large group of people crowding the office.

Chohong was pointing her finger at dozens of white-robed Priests, while Jang Maldong and Phi Sora were glaring at them with stiff faces.

When Seol Jihu saw the man standing in the front glance at him and smile furtively, he knew yet another incident had occurred. Seeing as how no one called him, it didn’t seem like the uninvited guests were here with good intentions.

The Priest opened his mouth.

“The suspect is here. Perfect.”

‘Suspect?’

Seol Jihu was immediately dumbfounded. Just how far did they plan to go?

“What did you say?”

Jang Maldong’s brows perked up.

“Watch your words. He has an alibi.”

“We know that, of course. I apologize for my poor choice of words. It’s just that—”

The Priest gave an eloquent excuse before glancing at Seol Jihu and smiling.

“This is the Daughter of Luxuria we’re talking about. All of Paradise is in an uproar, given the gravity of the situation. The Temple strongly declared that the perpetrator must be caught. We’ll have to ask for your cooperation.”

“I don’t know how many times I have to tell you, but we were at the pub at the time of the incident. Seol has nothing to do with this.”

“We know that, of course. It’s just that… separate from that alibi, we’ve received reports of him entering Lady Seo Yuhui’s house often. So…”

The Priest blurred his speech while glancing at Seol Jihu. Jang Maldong’s eyes narrowed.

“…So you’re saying that he might be an accomplice?”

Hearing this, the Priest smiled and waved his hand.

“I would not go that far, sir. We just need him to testify a few things and help us investigate. Sir Seol Jihu isn’t the only one we’re summoning. Dozens of other people have been summoned by the Temple to be investigated. As long as there is even a slight suspicion, that is.”

Jang Maldong snorted.

“Now that’s odd. You say dozens of others have been summoned, yet this is the first time I’ve seen a large group come to escort someone.”

“….”

“You brought dozens of people to surround us, and you dare to call this a witness interview? It’s clear that you’re treating him as a suspect. What do you think a third party will say when they see this?”

One corner of the Priest’s mouth twisted up when Jang Maldong hit the mark perfectly.

“…The Temple of Luxuria will not overlook this incident as a simple mishap or attack.”

“And? Did I say anything about that? I—”

“Anyways, we will not treat him badly. That, we promise. We ask for your cooperation.”

The Priest cut Jang Maldong off before finishing his own thoughts, glancing behind, and nodding his head.

The Priests who had been waiting in the back stepped up as if to take Seol Jihu by force. Chohong immediately took out her Thorn of Steel.

“Alright, let’s do this then. You fuckers must be blind thinking we’ll just let this happen.”

When Chohong turned hostile, the representative of the Priests smiled beamingly.

“If that ignorant mace moves even a little bit, you will have to go with us, Chung Chohong.”

He put his hands behind his back as if to say ‘Do it.’ At that moment, the entrance of the office turned rowdy. The Priest turned around reflexively and immediately furrowed his brows.

A 2-meter-tall burly man walked in with his back bent. Seeing him, Seol Jihu’s eyes widened.

“Hm.”

The man scanning the room was none other than Haramark’s general, Jan Sanctus. He ignored the Priests completely and walked straight towards Seol Jihu.

Then, he spoke.

“Follow me, please. There is someone waiting for you.”

Another summon came out of nowhere. However, Seol Jihu wasn’t an idiot.

Jang Maldong breathed a sigh of relief, and Chohong put her mace down smiling.

On the other hand, the face of the Priest, who had previously been full of leisure, was now distorted. It was obvious just from this reaction whom Seol Jihu should follow.

As such, he didn’t hesitate.

“I’ll go.”

“I will escort you.”

Jan Sanctus replied respectfully before turning around.

At the same time, the Priest shouted.

“Wait! We came here under the orders of the bishop!”

“Bishop?”

Jan Sanctus finally glanced at the Priest before replying curtly.

“I came under the orders of the Royal Family. Move aside.”

He declared rather threateningly and cut through the crowd. Because it looked like he would step over them if they did not move, the Priests quickly split left and right.

Following Jan Sanctus outside the office, a bizarre scene unfolded. Soldiers from the Royal Family’s military band were lined up in front of a grand eight-horse carriage with a crystalline window.

And in front of the carriage was a graceful, crowned man dressed in a palatial garment.

He was Haramark’s king, Prihi.

He bowed slightly as soon as he saw the confused Seol Jihu.

“Thank you for responding to our summons.”

His usual lethargic appearance was nowhere to be seen. Just as Seol Jihu was taken aback by his courteous attitude, the Priests quickly followed Seol Jihu out of the office.

“Hah.”

When they saw the scene of a king welcoming a general’s return from a victorious campaign, the head Priest let out an empty chuckle.

At the same time, King Prihi saw the Priest and tilted his head.

“‘Hah’? Is there a problem? This kingdom is trying to treat a war hero.”

“King of Haramark, you personally dispatched troops last night. I don’t doubt you have full knowledge of the situation.”

He remarked sarcastically.

“Ah, you must mean the attack.”

Prihi stuck his lower lip out and made a cheeky expression.

“Why yes, I have full knowledge of the incident. But didn’t we come to the conclusion that this young man had nothing to do with it?”

“If you are talking about the results of Ayase Kazuki’s investigation, we will have to note that it lacks credibility.”

“Hm, but it’s hard to find an Archer more outstanding than Ayase Kazuki in Haramark.”

“We don’t doubt his skills. But we must consider the fact that he was personally dispatched by the Royal Family and also his close ties with the suspect.”

A fierce back and forth broke out. The Priest’s glib tongue moved hastily.

“Moreover, we’ve found major differences with the findings of our Archer’s investigation.”

Although the Priest maintained a certain level of politeness in his speech, it was clear that he was telling the king to screw off.

It wasn’t as if Prihi didn’t understand this. However, he didn’t back down and smiled.

“Is that so? Now that’s a big problem!”

“If you understand, we ask for your concession.”

“Concession? If there are differences in the results of two investigations, shouldn’t conducting another investigation be of top priority?”

“?”

“Why don’t we investigate again? You can send an Archer or, for that matter, a hundred Archers. I won’t mind.”

The Temple of Luxuria could truly do so if they wished. But the king’s confidence weighing on the Priest’s mind, the Priest simply glared.

“Ah, speaking of which—”

But paying no attention to this ill-mannered look, Prihi continued his words leisurely.

“We received an unexpected message yesterday. It was from the Executor of Superbia. He expressed his condolences about the attack and offered his hand. He said he would love to investigate the crime scene personally.”

The Priest’s face stiffened. The Executor of Superbia was the Star of Pride. As the man standing at the apex of all Archers, he held absolute authority over such matters.

“Now, this is just a matter of if, but wouldn’t it be funny if the results of your Archer’s second investigation conflicted with the results of the Executor of Superbia’s investigation?”

The eyes gazing at Prihi instantly turned cold. The smile disappeared from the Priest’s face standing at the front. He bit his lower lip slightly.

“Hm? Am I wrong?”

Prihi spoke shamelessly before grinning. Then, as he placed his hand on Seol Jihu’s shoulder—

“You will regret this.”

A clear, hostile voice burst out.

Prihi stopped.

“Regret, you say.”

When he turned around, the Priest flinched. Because the king had his back toward him, Seol Jihu could not see what face he was wearing.

“Well, dear.”

A cold voice flowed out.

“What a load of bullshit.”

“W-What?”

“Even though this is Haramark, directly threatening a king of regretting his choice cannot be taken lightly.”

Before the shocked Priest could even open his mouth, Prihi continued.

“Go on if you dare. The moment another word comes out of that mouth, you will have to come with us.”

He stood tall.

“Ah, it doesn’t mean anything though. We will simply invite Taciana Cinzia and reaffirm an agreement we made in the past. She will be present without a doubt. You are free to talk if you’re interested in talking to her.”

The Priest became speechless. When he tightly shut his mouth, Prihi sneered before turning around and leading Seol Jihu into the carriage. Soon, the carriage left with Jan Sanctus at the head.

And Prihi was finally alone with Seol Jihu, he took off his crown and spat out a sigh.

“Whew, how stifling…. It must have been hard for you too. Quite hectic, isn’t it?”

“Yes, a little. Sorry for putting you through all this trouble.”

“No, no, it’s not like you did anything wrong. Plus, it’s the father-in-law’s duty to help out when his son-in-law is in trouble.”

“Pardon?”

Seol Jihu widened his eyes and asked again.

“I truly like you.”

Prihi sighed.

“But there’s one thing I’m unhappy with. It’s that you pretend to have not heard when you clearly did.”

“Pardon?”

“See, there you go again! Alright, I’ll just stop.”

Prihi chuckled loudly.

“I’m kidding. It’s just that Teresa kept complaining. She practically chased me out of the palace.”

‘So the Princess was behind this….’

Now that the situation had turned to this, Seol Jihu had a good idea of the overall picture. Although he hadn’t intended for this to happen, the series of incidents that unfolded yesterday and today were all schemes that were centered around him.

To be honest, when the Priests barged into the office in the morning, he was more exhausted than frustrated and angry. If he were alone, he might have escaped to Earth, unable to do a thing.

But Seol Jihu wasn’t alone.

While there were people desperately trying to attack him, there were likewise people desperately trying to defend him. This was the only solace.

“Anyways, you must have a good friend or two in the assassins’ guild.”

Now what did this mean?

Prihi took out a piece of paper from his pocket without saying anything else. It was a news report from the assassins’ guild.

Taking the record carefully, Seol Jihu read the heading.

—Hero Besmirching Starts ‘Again’.

Seol Jihu glanced at Prihi. The king was glancing out the window.

After a moment of silence—

“…I’m sorry.”

Prihi spoke bitterly, having felt the youth’s gaze.

“I’m sorry that this is all I can do.”

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